Deskmate


Deskmate

Directed by Ferit Karahan

  • Turkey;

  • THE FALL FROM HEAVEN previous work of director Ferit Karahan, available for screening on Festival Scope

Synopsis

Yusuf (12) is a student at an all-boys boarding school attended mostly by the children of underprivileged rural families. Run with an iron fist, the school is located in mountainous region miles from the nearest town. When he wakes one morning to go to classes, Yusuf realizes that his best friend, Memo, is too sick to get up or even speak. Yusuf is instructed to take Memo to the school sickbay by the teacher on duty in the boarding house. By the time Yusuf has broken through the school bureaucracy and persuaded the staff to take Memo to hospital, the roads are completely blocked by snow. No one can even get out of the school gates. The gravity of the situation finally sinks in with the school’s administration. And so begins a concerted effort firstly to get one of many stranded ambulances to come to the school, and secondly to figure out the cause of Memo’s illness. As Memo’s condition goes from bad to worse, Yusuf is overtaken by a growing sense of anguish and disquiet. And the fact that the school heating system has broken down makes the already strained school community even more aggressive. The incident soon spreads, involving maintenance staff and students as well as teachers. Things become messier still when people begin to blame each other in order to exonerate themselves. When the cloak of mystery gradually begins to lift, long concealed rifts suddenly surface in a savage showdown. Ultimately, it becomes apparent that no one, including Yusuf, is innocent. Hours later, an ambulance arrives to take away Memo, who by this time is showing no sign of life whatsoever. The boys are back in the school baths, fooling around and making a lot of noise as they wash. Yusuf, who is sharing a basin with two of his friends, pours a scoop of water over his soapy head. The suds wash away to reveal a swathe of closely cropped hair running down the middle of his head from front to back and the ‘train tracks’ of longer hair on either side.

Director's Statement

DESKMATE is set in a rural all-boys boarding school where strict discipline and repressive policies are the order of the day. It tells the seemingly simple story of 12-year-old Yusuf’s struggle to get his sick friend to a doctor. This, however, entails having to contend with the school’s bureaucracy, the administration’s callous indifference and the inhospitable local landscape. The entire story takes place in a single location over the course of a single day. Unlike boarding schools in the west of Turkey, those in the east are attended almost exclusively by the children of poorer families. The staff at these schools are largely made up of teachers on a mandatory stint in the east or trained teachers doing national service. As a general rule, the schools are located in a non-urban, socially isolated environment and discipline is strictly enforced. This emphasis on discipline has to do with many schools being based in predominantly Kurdish areas. In other words, the schools effectively function as ‘assimilation centres’. I spent six years of my childhood at one such boarding school and came away with a raft of indelible memories, both good and bad. On a personal note, mining this bank of memories in order to make the film has turned all the negatives into positives. Equally, telling a story about a place I know back to front gives me greater confidence as a director. Just when all appears to be fine at the school, something minor happens that is barely noticeable to the audience but, with the revelation of successive details, soon escalates into the main focus of the story. In a sense, the story develops by itself. Violence and the possibility of violence in a repressive environment have a profound effect on young lives. Children are driven to be on their guard from a young age and to develop a pattern of behaviour that stops at nothing for the sake of survival. Friendship, innocence and feelings are then superseded by more fundamental needs; and satisfying these needs means, in most cases, resorting to lies. DESKMATE illustrates how fibs told to save the moment can quickly snowball into a calamity.

Production

  • FERIT KARAHAN